The 2013 Berkshire United High School Boys and Girls Rugby Club girls team, which went to the Massachusetts state finals.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Last year, the county's high school girls rugby team had an invitation to play for a national championship but did not have the resources to get there.
This year, they solved that problem by bringing the championship to them.
The Berkshire United Girls & Boys Rugby Club will host the 15th annual Girls High School Rugby National Championship Tournament May 17-18 at Taconic High School.
"It kills me we couldn't go last year because what this is all about and the reason all the coaches give their time to volunteer to coach the kids is to get the kids the best opportunities available," Berkshire United director and head coach David Colli said this week. "Obviously, a trip to Wisconsin would have been awesome."
But it was also an awesome challenge for the fledgling program to raise the $16,000 it would have taken to send a team of at least 15, coaches and chaperones to the Midwest for the two-day tournament.
Colli said Berkshire United applied for a spot at last year's nationals on a whim in the program's second year of girls competition. But thanks to its 10-0-1 record in Year 1, it got the call.
"But we weren't prepared to fund raise for it," Colli said.
Instead, last August, Berkshire United put together an application to host the 2014 championships.
"We felt we had the facilities if the city was willing to let us," Colli said. "It turned out [the tournament] hadn't been on the East Coast. They'd been on the West Coast or the Midwest the last few years. ... There are a lot of colleges on the East Coast, so that might have been a factor in them wanting to be out here."
In November, the National Girls Coaches Committee awarded the championships to Berkshire United, which welcomes high school players from all over Berkshire County and currently draws boys and girls from eight different area high schools.
"It's a gigantic festival atmosphere," Colli said of the nationals, which bring in 16 teams, many of whom come the day before the two-day tourney contested on three fields.
"The girls will get an opportunity to play for a national championship right in their back yard. To have that opportunity is awesome."
And it is an opportunity still open to any Berkshire County high school girl willing to make a three-month commitment to the sport of rugby.
Berkshire United opens its pre-season on March 2 with indoor practices at the Fieldhouse at Canaan (N.Y.) from 7:45 to 9:45 p.m.
When the weather improves, the team practices at Osceola Park in Pittsfield on Tuesdays and Thursdays, usually from 5:30 until about 8 p.m.
Colli said Berkshire United welcomes kids who participate in other high school sports, understands that students' varsity commitments come first and welcomes beginners to give rugby a try.
The registration fee to join Berkshire United is $100, but that includes a $40 registration fee for USA Rugby. Registration is mandatory for any boy or girl playing in a sanctioned game and gives kids "the best insurance possible in any youth sport," Colli said.
"If I twisted my ankle getting out of my car going to the rugby pitch ... it would cover the copay for an ER visit," he said. "It's really worth it."
There are other out-of-pocket expenses for families over the course of the season, but Berkshire United does fundraising and offers sponsorships to area businesses to defray the cost of travel.
"Last year, we went to the Philadelphia [National 7s] tournament, where kids stayed over for three nights, basically all their meals were included and they played in the stadium where they also got to watch the college tournament ... and we charged $100 per player for Thursday, Friday and Saturday," Colli said.
The team's games are mostly played on the weekends against teams from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
And Berkshire United's boys and girls actually play two seasons: a "15s" season that runs from March to late May and a "7s" season that starts in Philadelphia after Memorial Day and ends in Saranac Lake, N.Y., at the Can-Am Rugby Tournament in August, a 41-year-old event that draws more than 100 teams from high schools to an over-50 division.
In rugby, 15s is the traditional game played with 15 players to a side. Sevens is a faster-paced, stripped down version of the game that is gaining in popularity.
The Girls High School National Championship is a 15s tournament that falls in the middle of Berkshire United's season.
Besides being an opportunity for the club's girls to compete on a national stage, the May tourney at Taconic will be a boon to the local economy said Colli, a Stockbridge native who serves as an assistant football and wrestling coach at his alma mater, Monument Mountain.
"We're bringing 24 girls teams, playing 15-on-15," Colli said. "Each team will have a minimum of 25 players, times 24, that's 600 kids plus coaches and family members. It's going to be a nice little event.
"I know for a fact I have 400 hotel rooms blocked out. We're certainly looking to set up a program with coupons and stuff for while they're here. A lot of teams talk about not just coming to play rugby but to see stuff.
"West Coast teams will come here a day ahead of time to acclimate to the area."
The Berkshire United High School Girls and Boys Rugby Club has a page on Facebook.
More on the local high school rugby program to come on iBerkshires.com's High School Sports page.
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